When I started competing in the sport of weightlifting in 2013, my biggest weakness was the catch of my snatch. I could clean and jerk and I could power snatch pretty naturally, but anytime I had to catch in a full overhead squat there was a high probability I was not going to be able to hold the bar strong enough to finish the lift. For almost a year, I could snatch more than I could overhead squat from a rack – that is not an exaggeration! This did not just happen in weightlifting. When competing in CrossFit, anytime a workout came out with overhead squats I knew it was going to be a hard workout for me because of the poor position I had overhead. In fact, the most difficult and “scariest” workout I have ever done in competition was at the 2015 Regionals with pull-ups and overhead squats at 125#. It was just a very large weakness at that time.
Looking back, I know the biggest issues were the instability of the smaller muscles in my shoulder as well as a lack of proper understanding on how to actually push up and into the bar – I would simply try to “hold” or “catch” the bar overhead instead of actively pressing on it with a locked down shoulder girdle. One of my biggest regrets in weightlifting is not spending more time on correcting this right off the bat. I struggled with inconsistency in the snatch for the first half of my competitive weightlifting career for this very reason. Working on it, and fixing it sooner, would have resulted in a lot less frustration in the snatch.
Fortunately, in the past 5 years I have had many people come into my life that have helped me improve this overhead position, my overhead squat, and as a result my snatch. I now, come into contact with others all the time that have a similar issue I once had and I really wanted to put together some information to help. Typically, I hear “I have bad mobility” as an excuse/reason for a poor catch and I am here to tell you that 90% of the time “bad mobility” is not the cause of the poor catch position – it is simply lack of understanding of how to utilize and stabilize the muscles of your shoulder girdle, and lack of repetition of the movement. Simply snatching more will not improve a poor catch position – you actually have to drill the catch position and overhead stabilization specifically!
Here are the top three drills that I believe improved my overhead position in the snatch:
1. 10-10-10 Tempo OHS
Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like and 100% as miserable and demanding as it sounds. Take an empty bar and perform a 10 second decent, then sit in the bottom for 10 seconds, and begin a 10 second ascent. Be sure to have a clock somewhere in view as counting to 10 in your head usually results in about 6-7 seconds! Be sure to stay active into the barbell the entire time. This drill gives you IMMEDIATE feedback of instability and weakness in those stabilizer muscles as well as keeps you under a barbell for an entire 30 seconds. This was one of the hardest drills I have ever been asked to do, and my go-to for helping others improve their overhead position as I feel it made that much of an impact on mine. I would incorporate these into my warmups in sets of about 5-8 with about 1:00-2:00 rest in between reps. Stay very light here!
2. Snatch Drop With Pause in the Bottom
I like this drill as a progression from the Tempo OHS and something that I still use as a snatch warm up before each session. The barbell should start on your back to perform a standard snatch drop – however, when you hit bottom stay there for 3-5 seconds pushing actively into the bar with a locked down shoulder girdle and stabilizing. The idea is to now dynamically move into the same bottom position we found and held in the 10Tempo drill. There should be no movement in the bottom and you will know you are improving at this exercise when you can hit the bottom and stabilize through the entire pause with no movement or fidgeting. As you get better with this drill, begin to add weight!
3. Power Snatch (don’t stand!) + Overhead Squat
This is my favorite drill for people who have an issue puling into a full squat when the barbell gets heavy. It is also a great way to prevent the “starfish” that often happens with people as they try and compensate for lack of comfort in the overhead squat catch by throwing their feet wide to get lower. Start light here and complete a technically sound power snatch. Hold that catch position (DO NOT STAND) for about a second. Then, without moving your feet perform an overhead squat. If you find your foot position needs to change, or it is not comfortable when you try to overhead squat – you need to address your foot mechanics. Ideally, this drill should get you comfortable with holding a high overhead squat (the catch of the power snatch) and then finishing it by finding depth. The more you can drill this into your mechanics, the more comfortable you will be will pulling under the barbell in the full overhead squat position! Start light with this one and as you improve work up to a maximal weight (for this drill). In a perfect world, you would get to a point where the bar is too heavy to catch power anymore and you accidentally snatch into a full squat!
Try these out and let me know if they are working for you and if you have seen improvement!
As always, if you have any questions email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website at Honor Your Nutrition